Lebanon to 'declare state of medical emergency' over coronavirus pandemic

Lebanon to 'declare state of medical emergency' over coronavirus pandemic
Months of economic upheaval have left Lebanese hospitals short of medicine and supplies, with medical students drafted to volunteer in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
3 min read
15 March, 2020
Three people have died from the novel coronavirus in Lebanon [AFP]
Lebanon is set to announce a state of "medical emergency" on Sunday, closing all public and private institutions except hospitals, pharmacies and bakeries in a bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, Al-Jazeera reported.

Supermarkets will be kept open but only within specific times, a source within the presidential palace told Al-Jazeera.

Banks will also be ordered to close but may not be required to shut their doors as quickly as other institutions in order to give the public time to withdraw cash, the source added.

Lebanon's cabinet headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab is expected to convene for an emergency meeting at 3pm (13:00 GMT) on Sunday to discuss a complete ban on movement, the source said.

The Higher Defence Council, which includes representatives from the army and security services, will also meet on Sunday afternoon.

Special measures decided during those meetings are expected to last for 15 days but could be extended, the source explained.

Lawmaker Assem Araji, who also heads the parliament's health committee, confirmed that a state of emergency would be announced later on Sunday.

He added that Lebanon's borders with Syria would be closed.

On Wednesday, Lebanon implemented a raft of new measures designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, including the closure of schools, universities, bars and restaurants. 

The country has had 93 confirmed Covid-19 cases, of whom three died from the virus.

Lebanese hospitals already in crisis

The outbreak comes as Lebanon faces one of its worst economic crises in history. 

Many of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic feared  by the public in other countries - widespread loss of income, for example - are already a reality in Lebanon after months of political and economic upheaval.

Since protests began in October, Lebanon has seen its currency increasingly weakened and banks introduce increasingly strict restrictions on withdrawals and international transfers. The economic decline has already seen many lose their jobs or unable to access sufficient cash.

Restrictions on foreign transactions saw Lebanon's hospitals and healthcare workers warn of a critical shortage of medicine and supplies months ago. 

Many medical staff have reportedly gone without wages for months, while medical students have been asked to volunteer during the pandemic.

Only one hospital in the small nation is equipped with specialised isolation rooms that meet international standards to handle the coronavirus outbreak, parliamentary health committee chief Araji has said previously.

Many Lebanese have criticised the government for failing to act quickly, particularly to ban flights from Iran, a measure not taken until this Wednesday.

The Islamic Republic, a regional epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, has seen the deadliest outbreak of the virus outside of China, where it originated. Thousands of people travel every year between Lebanon and Iran, which backs the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

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